Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months of life and can give your baby most of their nutrition for the first year of their life and beyond.
Breast milk also helps to protect your baby against a range of infections, allergies and other medical conditions.
It is a good idea to start talking about breastfeeding in early pregnancy. Any fears or concerns that you may have are best addressed early so that you can deal with them before you are breastfeeding your baby.
We often expect that breastfeeding will come easily because it is ‘natural’, but like any new skill it needs to be learned. It requires time, patience and plenty of practice, as well as an understanding that it may not always go as planned. Many midwives and lactation specialists are highly skilled in teaching women to breastfeed in a way that is very supportive.
On this page:
- Benefits of breastfeeding
- Getting breastfeeding off to a good start
- How will I know if I am breastfeeding well?
- What if I can't breastfeed?
For your baby:
- It's the perfect food for your baby's growth and development.
- Protects babies against gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, ear and chest infections, allergies, diabetes and other medical conditions.
- Reduces the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- It reduces the risk of bleeding after the birth.
- May help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
- Reduces your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
- Convenient, free and there is very little preparation before each feed.
Breastfeeding gives you an opportunity to connect with your baby in a profound and deeply satisfying way. It is a physical and emotional bond that stays with you for many years afterwards.
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after birth triggers a strong hormonal response that is linked with greater breastfeeding success. Even if you have a caesarean section, you can generally have skin-to-skin contact with your baby soon after the birth.
The first few days after the birth are when you and your baby learn to breastfeed. In that time your breasts are producing the first milk, known as colostrum. It is highly nutritious and plays a significant role in protecting your newborn baby against disease. Your breasts are still soft during this time but as your milk ‘comes in’, that is, it changes from colostrum to mature milk; your breasts can become quite full and firm. This is when things may become a little more challenging for some women and their babies, though generally you will move though this time with relative ease.
By about two weeks the milk will be whiter and thinner in appearance and continues to increase in volume to meet the needs of your growing baby.
Continued milk production is dependent on the frequent stimulation and emptying of your breasts, either by breastfeeding or expressing. During breastfeeding or expressing a hormone called oxytocin is released which pushes the milk through the ducts to the nipple openings. This action is called the 'let-down' reflex. It takes approximately 60 seconds and is felt by some women as a tingling sensation or fullness in the breasts; some women do not feel any sensation but may notice milk leaking from the other breast.
Initially, your baby will feed between seven and twelve times in 24 hours. Remember breast milk is both food and drink for your baby so they need to feed often. This will settle over time. Feeding when your baby wants it, feeding frequently and feeding well will help you to make enough milk for your baby’s needs.
Breast milk is enough for your baby for the first six months of their life. They need no other food or drink in that time. You can be confident that your baby is getting enough food in the early weeks if they have six or more wet nappies and at least one bowel motion a day. It is also a good sign if your baby settles after most feeds.
A small number of women are unable to breastfeed their baby and, in this case, you may have mixed feelings about not breastfeeding. It might be important to talk to your partner or a friend about how you are feeling.
Formula will provide nutrition to your baby to grow well. You can still bond with your baby, especially as you hold your baby close as they feed. Make feeding a special time for you both. Be sure that you follow instructions for preparing formula carefully and that bottles are properly cleaned and sterilised so that your baby stays well.
Related Health Topics
Breastfeeding - All fact sheets in English
Here you will find all of our English language fact sheets about breastfeeding grouped together.
- Breastfeeding - All fact sheets in English
Breastfeeding - All fact sheets in other languages
Breastfeeding fact sheets in languages other than English are grouped together here.
- Breastfeeding - All fact sheets in other languages
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